One of the most powerful strategies for responding to learning loss is one-on-one, high-dosage tutoring. This means tutoring in very small groups at least three times a week, or for about 50 hours over a semester. The low dosage tutoring that is usually found in most districts, such as homework help programs or text question programs are much less effective then regular interaction with the same tutor over a longer period.

There is plenty of research supporting high-dosage tutoring as having the largest effect on learning, and on reducing learning loss, when compared with other types of intervention in education. And thoughtful online tutoring has been found to be just as effective as in person tutoring.

Fairfax County Public Schools in Virginia has completed a review of their first year using as a supplement for their students. The biggest problem they found was lack of use by the students. An important quote from the report is:

During the fourth grading quarter, 3,189 FCPS students and families, just 1.6% of the FCPS population, accessed the platform for learning support, which equates to a cost per participant of $153 for those who used it. With a median of 29 minutes among those using during SY 2021-22, data indicate that half of all FCPS users accessing the platform did so for less than 30 minutes while the other half did so for more than 30 minutes. The total time among all FCPS users logged into during SY 2021-22 (3,760 hours) translates into an hourly tutoring cost of $130 per hour. Furthermore, while the amount of time individual students or families were logged into ranged from 1 to 2,699 minutes, analyses indicate that almost three-quarters of student users (72 percent) used it for less than one hour, an amount of time that is unlikely to yield tangible benefits to student achievement, particularly for those with greater academic need.

Especially interesting was the table below showing the percentage of students who used the system, breaking them down by race, economic situation, and disabilities. The adoption was low for all groups but was arguably lowest among the students most in need. 

It seems that depending on parents and students to buy into tutoring programs is not easy. There has been some research that shows contacting parents of struggling students individually can increase at home use but it is not a complete solution. Based on the research, we have come up with 3 important things to keep in mind when hiring or developing an equitable and effective online tutoring program.

1.  Use classroom time and technology for tutoring

Tutoring is most effective when conducted at school, during school hours and working technology is vital. This excellent article on The Hechinger Report highlights the issues that even the most dedicated tutors can have while trying to help low income students. Much of the tutoring time can be taken up by dealing with tech problems which limits the amount of teaching and leads to frustration on both sides.

The best way to achieve equitable tutoring is to have online tutoring take place during the school day. This solves the technology problem and frees up the classroom teacher.  It also increases buy-in from the school and ensures the teacher is available to answer questions and helps coordinate teaching and tutoring as much as possible. 

2. Use teachers or professional tutors who are well trained and supervised instead of volunteers, peers, or parent tutors.

Programs that rely on volunteer tutors are less effective than programs that use paid, paraprofessionals (teaching assistants). Research on struggling elementary and secondary readers and on elementary math programs showed that tutoring delivered by paraprofessionals was at least as effective as tutoring by teachers in both one-on-one and small group settings. Additionally, volunteer tutors were less effective than paraprofessionals or teachers, even when volunteer tutors were provided with extensive training and supervision and structured materials.

Robert Slavin, Director of the Center for Research and Reform in Education at Johns Hopkins University and Chairman of the Success for All Foundation

This study showed that tutoring programs led by teacher or paraprofessional tutors are generally more effective than programs that used nonprofessional (volunteer) or parent tutors. Paraprofessional tutors include, among others, school staff members, undergraduate students in education, and service fellows.

3. Have Consistent Tutors and Frequent Sessions Over A Long Period in Online Tutoring and ongoing tutor training.

The Rady School of Management at UC San Diego recently conducted a pilot program pairing college students with K-12 students. The volunteer tutors were from top-tier research universities and conducted in partnership with the volunteer mentorship program CovEducation (CovEd). CovEd is a non-profit established to support students in need of academic and socio-emotional support during the pandemic.

In Italy, Eliana La Ferrara, an economics professor at Milan’s Bocconi University studied 523 tutors helping 1,000 low-income, immigrant, middle school students  students from 76 schools all over Italy. The students completed online, self-paced training modules designed by pedagogy experts. Those same experts supported the tutors in their work during the program.  The studies showed that when students received four hours of online tutoring per week, their scores increased; when online tutoring was provided for only two hours a week, it was more than 50 percent less impactful. 

Each tutor worked with groups of two students for eight weeks. After school, when students were at home, they went online to connect with their tutors for three 50-minute sessions per week. They worked on math skills and concepts, but the tutors also helped students build good work routines and supported their emotional well-being. The researchers found that compared to a control group, students in the tutoring program had higher standardized test scores and grades, and were less likely to repeat a grade. They also were more likely to report putting increased effort into their schoolwork.

Along with these points, the most important takeaway should be that more research is needed into the effectiveness of all types of EdTech, especially online tutoring. We will keep you up-to-date on any new research and do our best to publicize the most effective efforts.

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